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The Wrackham Memoirs by May Sinclair

I

The publishers told you he behaved badly, did they? They didn't know the truth about the “Wrackham Memoirs.”

You may well wonder how Grevill Burton got mixed up with them, how he ever could have known Charles Wrackham.

Well, he did know him, pretty intimately, too, but it was through Antigone, and because of Antigone, and for Antigone's adorable sake. We never called her anything but Antigone, though Angelette was the name that Wrackham, with that peculiar shortsightedness of his, had given to the splendid creature.

Why Antigone? You'll see why.

No, I don't mean that Wrackham murdered his father and married his mother; but he wouldn't have stuck at either if it could have helped him to his literary ambition. And every time he sat down to write a book he must have been disgusting to the immortal gods. And Antigone protected him.

She was the only living child he'd had, or, as Burton once savagely said, was ever likely to have. And I can tell you that if poor Wrackham's other works had been one half as fine as Antigone it would have been glory enough for Burton to have edited him. For he did edit him.

They met first, if you'll believe it, at Ford Lankester's funeral. I'd gone to Chenies early with young Furnival, who was “doing” the funeral for his paper, and with Burton, who knew the Lankesters, as I did, slightly. I'd had a horrible misgiving that I should see Wrackham there; and there he was, in the intense mourning of that black cloak and slouch hat he used to wear. The cloak was a fine thing as far as it went, and with a few more inches he really might have carried it off; but those few more inches were just what had been denied him. Still, you couldn't miss him or mistake him. He was exactly like his portraits in the papers; you know the haggard, bilious face that would have been handsome if he'd given it a chance; the dark, straggling, and struggling beard, the tempestuous, disheveled look he had, and the immortal Attitude. He was standing in it under a yew tree looking down into Lankester's grave. It was a small white chamber about two feet square—enough for his ashes. The earth at the top of it was edged with branches of pine and laurel.

Furnival said afterward you could see what poor Wrackham was thinking of. He would have pine branches. Pine would be appropriate for the stormy Child of Nature that he was. And laurel—there would have to be lots of laurel. He was at the height of his great vogue, the brief popular fury for him that was absurd then and seems still more absurd to-day, now that we can measure him. He takes no room, no room at all, even in the popular imagination; less room than Lankester's ashes took—or his own, for that matter.

Yes, I know it's sad in all conscience. But Furnival seemed to think it funny then, for he called my attention to him. I mustn't miss him, he said.

Perhaps I might have thought it funny too if it hadn't been for Antigone. I was not prepared for Antigone. I hadn't realized her. She was there beside her father, not looking into the grave, but looking at him as if she knew what he was thinking and found it, as we find it now, pathetic. But unbearably pathetic.

Somehow there seemed nothing incongruous in her being there. No, I can't tell you what she was like to look at, except that she was like a great sacred, sacrificial figure; she might have come there to pray, or to offer something, or to pour out a libation. She was tall and grave, and gave the effect of something white and golden. In her black gown and against the yew trees she literally shone.

It was because of Antigone that I went up and spoke to him, and did it (I like to think I did it now) with reverence. He seemed, in spite of the reverence, to be a little dashed at seeing me there. His idea, evidently, was that if so obscure a person as I could be present, it diminished his splendor and significance.

He inquired (for hope was immortal in him) whether I was there for the papers? I said no, I wasn't there for anything. I had come down with Burton, because we——But he interrupted me.

“What's he doing here?” he said. There was the funniest air of resentment and suspicion about him.

I reminded him that Burton's “Essay on Ford Lankester” had given him a certain claim. Besides, Mrs. Lankester had asked him. He was one of the few she had asked. I really couldn't tell him she had asked me.

His gloom was awful enough when he heard that Burton had been asked. You see, the fact glared, and even he must have felt it—that he, with his tremendous, his horrific vogue, had not achieved what Grevill Burton had by his young talent. He had never known Ford Lankester. Goodness knows I didn't mean to rub it into him; but there it was.

We had moved away from the edge of the grave (I think he didn't like to be seen standing there with me) and I begged him to introduce me to his daughter. He did so with an alacrity which I have since seen was anything but flattering to me, and left me with her while he made what you might call a dead set at Furnival. He had had his eye on him and on the other representatives of the press all the time he had been talking to me. Now he made straight for him; when Furnival edged off he followed; when Furnival dodged he doubled; he was so afraid that Furnival might miss him. As if Furnival could have missed him, as if in the face of Wrackham's vogue his paper would have let him miss him. It would have been as much as Furny's place on it was worth.

Of course that showed that Wrackham ought never to have been there; but there he was; and when you think of the unspeakable solemnity and poignancy of the occasion it really is rather awful that the one vivid impression I have left of it is of Charles Wrackham; Charles Wrackham under the yew tree; Charles Wrackham leaning up against a pillar (he remained standing during the whole of the service in the church) with his arm raised and his face hidden in his cloak. The attitude this time was immense. Furnival (Furny was really dreadful) said it was “Brother mourning Brother.” But I caught him—I caught him three times—just raising his near eyelid above his drooped arm and peeping at Furnival and the other pressmen to see that they weren't missing him.

It must have been then that Burton saw, though he says now he didn't. He won't own up to having seen him. We had hidden ourselves behind the mourners in the chancel and he swears that he didn't see anybody but Antigone, and that he only saw her because, in spite of her efforts to hide too, she stood out so; she was so tall, so white and golden. Her head was bowed with—well, with grief, I think, but also with what I've no doubt now was a sort of shame. I wondered: Did she share her father's illusion? Or had she seen through it? Did she see the awful absurdity of the draped figure at her side? Did she realize the gulf that separated him from the undying dead? Did she know that we couldn't have stood his being there but for our certainty that somewhere above us and yet with us, from his high seat among the Undying, Ford Lankester was looking on and enjoying more than we could enjoy—with a divine, immortal mirth—the rich, amazing comedy of him. Charles Wrackham there—at his funeral!

But it wasn't till it was all over that he came out really strong. We were sitting together in the parlor of the village inn, he and Antigone, and Grevill Burton and Furnival and I, with an hour on our hands before our train left. I had ordered tea on Antigone's account, for I saw that she was famished. They had come down from Devonshire that day. They had got up at five to catch the early train from Seaton Junction, and then they'd made a dash across London for the 12.30 from Marylebone; and somehow they'd either failed or forgotten to lunch. Antigone said she hadn't cared about it. Anyhow, there she was with us. We were all feeling that relief from nervous tension which comes after a funeral. Furnival had his stylo out and was jotting down a few impressions. Wrackham had edged up to him and was sitting, you may say, in Furny's pocket while he explained to us that his weak health would have prevented him from coming, but that he had to come. He evidently thought that the funeral couldn't have taken place without him—not with any decency, you know. And then Antigone said a thing for which I loved her instantly.

I oughtn't to have come,” she said. “I felt all the time I oughtn't. I hadn't any right.”

That drew him.

“You had your right,” he said. “You are your father's daughter.”

He brooded somberly.

“It was not,” he said, “what I had expected—that meager following. Who were there? Not two—not three—and there should have been an army of us.”

He squared himself and faced the invisible as if he led the van.

That and his attitude drew Burton down on to him.

“Was there ever an army,” he asked dangerously, “of 'us'?”

Wrackham looked at Burton (it was the first time he'd taken the smallest notice of him) with distinct approval, as if the young man had suddenly shown more ability than he had given him credit for. But you don't suppose he'd seen the irony in him. Not he!

“You're right,” he said. “Very right. All the same, there ought to have been more there besides Myself.”

There was a perfectly horrible silence, and then Antigone's voice came through it, pure and fine and rather slow.

“There couldn't be. There couldn't really be anybody—there—at all. He stood alone.”

And with her wonderful voice there went a look, a look of intelligence, as wonderful, as fine and pure. It went straight to Burton. It was humble, and yet there was a sort of splendid pride about it. And there was no revolt, mind you, no disloyalty in it; the beauty of the thing was that it didn't set her father down; it left him where he was, as high as you please, as high as his vogue could lift him. Ford Lankester was beyond him only because he was beyond them all.

And yet we wondered how he'd take it.

He took it as if Antigone had been guilty of a social blunder; as if her behavior had been in some way painful and improper. That's to say he took no notice of it at all beyond shifting his seat a little so as to screen her. And then he spoke—exclusively to us.

“I came,” he said, “partly because I felt that, for all Lankester's greatness, this—” (his gesture indicated us all sitting there in our mourning)—“this was the last of him. It's a question whether he'll ever mean much to the next generation. There's no doubt that he limited his public—wilfully. He alienated the many. And, say what you like, the judgment of posterity is not the judgment of the few.” There was a faint murmur of dissent (from Furnival), but Wrackham's voice, which had gathered volume, rolled over it. “Not for the novelist. Not for the painter of contemporary life.”

He would have kept it up interminably on those lines and on that scale, but that Antigone created a diversion (I think she did it on purpose to screen him) by getting up and going out softly into the porch of the inn.

Burton followed her there.

You forgive many things to Burton. I have had to forgive his cutting me out with Antigone. He says that they talked about nothing but Ford Lankester out there, and certainly as I joined them I heard Antigone saying again, “I oughtn't to have come. I only came because I adored him.” I heard Burton say, “And you never knew him?” and Antigone, “No, how could I?”

And then I saw him give it back to her with his young radiance. “It's a pity. He would have adored you.”

He always says it was Ford Lankester that did it.

The next thing Furnival's article came out. Charles Wrackham's name was in it all right, and poor Antigone's. I'm sure it made her sick to see it there. Furny had been very solemn and decorous in his article; but in private his profanity was awful. He said it only remained now for Charles Wrackham to die.

II

He didn't die. Not then, not all at once. He had an illness afterward that sent his circulation up to I don't know what, but he didn't die of it. He knew his business far too well to die then. We had five blessed years of him. Nor could we have done with less. Words can't describe the joy he was to us, nor what he would have been but for Antigone.

I ought to tell you that he recovered his spirits wonderfully on our way back from Chenies. He had mistaken our attentions to Antigone for interest in him, and he began to unbend, to unfold himself, to expand gloriously. It was as if he felt that the removal of Ford Lankester had left him room.

He proposed that Burton and I should make a pilgrimage some day to Wildweather Hall. He called it a pilgrimage—to the shrine, you understand.

Well, we made it. We used to make many pilgrimages, but Burton made more than I.

The Sacred Place, you remember, was down in East Devon. He'd built himself a modern Tudor mansion—if you know what that is—there and ruined the most glorious bit of the coast between Seaton and Sidmouth. It stood at the head of a combe looking to the sea. They'd used old stone for the enormous front of it, and really, if he'd stuck it anywhere else, it might have been rather fine. But it was much too large for the combe. Why, when all the lights were lit in it you could see it miles out to sea, twinkling away like the line of the Brighton Parade. It was one immense advertisement of Charles Wrackham, and must have saved his publishers thousands. His “grounds” went the whole length of the combe, and up the hill on the east side of it where his cucumber frames blazed in the sun. And besides his cucumbers (anybody can have cucumbers) he had a yacht swinging in Portland Harbor (at least he had that year when he was at his height). And he had two motor-cars and a wood that he kept people out of, and a great chunk of beach. He couldn't keep them off that, and they'd come miles, from Torquay and Exeter, to snapshot him when he bathed.

The regular approach to him, for pilgrims, was extraordinarily impressive. And not only the “grounds,” but the whole interior of the Tudor mansion, must have been planned with a view to that alone. It was all staircases and galleries and halls, black oak darknesses and sudden clear spaces and beautiful chintzy, silky rooms—lots of them, for Mrs. Wrackham—and books and busts and statues everywhere. And these were only his outer courts; inside them was his sanctuary, his library, and inside that, divided from it by curtains, was the Innermost, the shrine itself, and inside the shrine, veiled by his curtains, was Charles Wrackham.

As you came through, everything led up to him, as it were, by easy stages and gradations. He didn't burst on you cruelly and blind you. You waited a minute or two in the library, which was all what he called “silent presences and peace.” The silent presences, you see, prepared you for him. And when, by gazing on the busts of Shakespeare and Cervantes, your mind was turned up to him, then you were let in. Over that Tudor mansion, and the whole place, you may say for miles along the coast, there brooded the shadow of Charles Wrackham's greatness. If we hadn't been quite so much oppressed by that we might have enjoyed the silent presences and the motor-cars and things, and the peace that was established there because of him. And we did enjoy Antigone and Mrs. Wrackham.

It's no use speculating what he would have been if he'd never written anything. You cannot detach him from his writings, nor would he have wished to be detached. I suppose he would still have been the innocent, dependent creature that he was: fond, very fond of himself, but fond also of his home and of his wife and daughter. It was his domesticity, described, illustrated, exploited in a hundred papers, that helped to endear Charles Wrackham to his preposterous public. It was part of the immense advertisement. His wife's gowns, the sums he spent on her, the affection that he notoriously lavished on her, were part of it.

I'll own that at one time I had a great devotion to Mrs. Wrackham (circumstances have somewhat strained it since). She was a woman of an adorable plumpness, with the remains of a beauty which must have been pink and golden once. And she would have been absolutely simple but for the touch of assurance that was given her by her position as the publicly loved wife of a great man. Every full, round line of her face and figure declared (I don't like to say advertised) her function. She existed in and for Charles Wrackham. You saw that her prominent breast fairly offered itself as a pillow for his head. Her soft hands suggested the perpetual stroking and soothing of his literary vanity, her face the perpetual blowing of an angelic trumpet in his praise. Her entire person, incomparably soft, yet firm, was a buffer that interposed itself automatically between Wrackham and the bludgeonings of fate. As for her mind, I know nothing about it except that it was absolutely simple. She was a woman of one idea—two ideas, I should say, Charles Wrackham the Man, and Charles Wrackham the Great Novelist.

She could separate them only so far as to marvel at his humanity because of his divinity, how he could stoop, how he could condescend, how he could lay it all aside and be delightful as we saw him—“Like a boy, Mr. Simpson, like a boy!”

It was our second day, Sunday, and Wrackham had been asleep in his shrine all afternoon while she piloted us in the heat about the “grounds.” I can see her now, dear plump lady, under her pink sunshade, saying all this with a luminous, enchanting smile. We were not to miss him; we were to look at him giving up his precious, his inconceivably precious time, laying himself out to amuse, to entertain us—“Just giving himself—giving himself all the time.” And then, lest we might be uplifted, she informed us, still with the luminous, enchanting smile, that Mr. Wrackham was like that to “everybody, Mr. Simpson; everybody!”

She confided a great many things to us that afternoon. For instance, that she was greatly troubled by what she called “the ill-natured attacks on Mr. Wrackham in the papers,” the “things” that “They” said about him (it was thus vaguely that she referred to some of our younger and profaner critics). She was very sweet and amiable and charitable about it. I believe she prayed for them. She was quite sure, dear lady, that “They” wouldn't do it if “They” knew how sensitive he was, how much it hurt him. And of course it didn't really hurt him. He was above it all.

I remember I began that Sunday by cracking up Burton to her, just to see how she would take it, and perhaps for another reason. Antigone had carried him off to the strawberry-bed, where I gathered from their sounds of happy laughter that they were feeding each other with the biggest ones. For the moment, though not, I think, afterward, Antigone's mother was blind and deaf to what was going on in the strawberry-bed. I spoke to her of Burton and his work, of the essay on Ford Lankester, of the brilliant novel he had just published, his first; and I even went so far as to speak of the praise it had received; but I couldn't interest her in Burton. I believe she always, up to the very last, owed Burton a grudge on account of his novels; not so much because he had so presumptuously written them as because he had been praised for writing them. I don't blame her, neither did he, for this feeling. It was inseparable from the piety with which she regarded Charles Wrackham as a great figure in literature, a sacred and solitary figure.

I don't know how I got her off him and on to Antigone. I may have asked her point-blank to what extent Antigone was her father's daughter. The luminous and expansive lady under the sunshade was a little less luminous and expansive when we came to Angelette, as she called her; but I gathered then, and later, that Antigone was a dedicated child, a child set apart and consecrated to the service of her father. It was not, of course, to be expected that she should inherit any of his genius; Mrs. Wrackham seemed to think it sufficiently wonderful that she should have developed the intelligence that fitted her to be his secretary. I was not to suppose it was because he couldn't afford a secretary (the lady laughed as she said this; for you see how absurd it was, the idea of Charles Wrackham not being able to afford anything). It was because they both felt that Antigone ought not to be, as she put it, “overshadowed” by him; he wished that she should be associated, intimately associated, with his work; that the child should have her little part in his glory. It was not only her share of life which he took and so to speak put in the bank for her, but an investment for Antigone in the big business of his immortality. There she was, there she always would be, associated with Charles Wrackham and his work.

She sighed under the sunshade. “That child,” she said, “can do more for him, Mr. Simpson, than I can.”

I could see that, though the poor lady didn't know it, she suffered a subtle sorrow and temptation. If she hadn't been so amiable, if she hadn't been so good, she would have been jealous of Antigone.

She assured us that only his wife and daughter knew what he really was.

We wondered, did Antigone know? She made no sign of distance or dissent, but somehow she didn't seem to belong to him. There was something remote and irrelevant about her; she didn't fit into the advertisement. And in her remoteness and irrelevance she remained inscrutable. She gave no clue to what she really thought of him. When “They” went for him she soothed him. She spread her warm angel's wing, and wrapped him from the howling blast. But, as far as we could make out, she never committed herself to an opinion. All her consolations went to the tune of “They say. What say they? Let them say.” Which might have applied to anybody. We couldn't tell whether, like her mother, she believed implicitly or whether she saw through him.

She certainly saw beyond him, or she couldn't have said the things she did—you remember?—at Ford Lankester's funeral. But she had been overwrought then, and that clear note had been wrung from her by the poignancy of the situation. She never gave us anything like that again.

And she was devoted to him—devoted with passion. There couldn't be any sort of doubt about it.

Sometimes I wondered even then if it wasn't almost entirely a passion of pity. For she must have known. Burton always declared she knew. At least in the beginning he did; afterwards he was not clear about it any more than I was then. He said that her knowledge, her vision, of him was complete and that her pity for him was unbearable. He said that she would have given anything to have seen him as her mother saw him and as he saw himself, and that all her devotion to him, to it, his terrible work, was to make up to him for not seeing, for seeing as she saw. It was consecration, if you like; but it was expiation too, the sacrifice for the sin of an unfilial clarity.

And the tenderness she put into it!

Wrackham never knew how it protected him. It regularly spoilt our pleasure in him. We couldn't—when we thought of Antigone—get the good out of him we might have done. We had to be tender to him, too. I think Antigone liked us for our tenderness. Certainly she liked Burton—oh, from the very first.

III

They had known each other about six months when he proposed to her, and she wouldn't have him. He went on proposing at ridiculously short intervals, but it wasn't a bit of good. Wrackham wouldn't give his consent, and it seemed Antigone wouldn't marry anybody without it. He said Burton was too poor, and Antigone too young; but the real reason was that Burton's proposal came as a shock to his vanity. I told you how coolly he had appropriated the young man's ardent and irrepressible devotion; he had looked on him as a disciple, a passionate pilgrim to his shrine; and the truth, the disillusionment, was more than he could stand. He'd never had a disciple or a pilgrim of Burton's quality. He could ignore and disparage Burton's brilliance when it suited his own purpose, and when it suited his own purpose he thrust Burton and his brilliance down your throat. Thus he never said a word about Burton's novels except that he once went out of his way to tell me that he hadn't read them (I believe he was afraid to). Antigone must have noticed that, and she must have understood the meaning of it. I know she never spoke to him about anything that Burton did. She must have felt he couldn't bear it. Anyhow, he wasn't going to recognize Burton's existence as a novelist; it was as if he thought his silence could extinguish him. But he knew all about Burton's critical work; there was his splendid “Essay on Ford Lankester”; he couldn't ignore or disparage that, and he didn't want to. He had had his eye on him from the first as a young man, an exceptionally brilliant young man who might be useful to him.

And so, though he wouldn't let the brilliant young man marry his daughter, he wasn't going to lose sight of him; and Burton continued his passionate pilgrimages to Wildweather Hall.

I didn't see Wrackham for a long time, but I heard of him; I heard all I wanted, for Burton was by no means so tender to him as he used to be. And I heard of poor Antigone. I gathered that she wasn't happy, that she was losing some of her splendor and vitality. In all Burton's pictures of her you could see her droop.

This went on for nearly three years, and by that time Burton, as you know, had made a name for himself that couldn't be ignored. He was also making a modest, a rather painfully modest income. And one evening he burst into my rooms and told me it was all right. Antigone had come round. Wrackham hadn't, but that didn't matter. Antigone had said she didn't care. They might have to wait a bit, but that didn't matter either. The great thing was that she had accepted him, that she had had the courage to oppose her father. You see, they scored because, as long as Wrackham had his eye on Burton, he didn't forbid him the house.

I went down with him soon after that by Wrackham's invitation. I'm not sure that he hadn't his eye on me; he had his eye on everybody in those days when, you know, his vogue, his tremendous vogue, was just perceptibly on the decline.

I found him changed, rather pitiably changed, and in low spirits. “They”—the terrible, profane young men—had been “going for him” again, as he called it.

Of course when they really went for him he was all right. He could get over it by saying that they did it out of sheer malevolence, that they were jealous of his success, that a writer cannot be great without making enemies, and that perhaps he wouldn't have known how great he was if he hadn't made any. But they didn't give him much opportunity. They were too clever for that. They knew exactly how to flick him on the raw. It wasn't by the things they said so much as by the things they deliberately didn't say; and they could get at him any time, easily, by praising other people.

Of course none of it did any violence to the supreme illusion. He was happy. I think he liked writing his dreadful books. (There must have been something soothing in the act with its level, facile fluency.) I know he enjoyed bringing them out. He gloated over the announcements. He drew a voluptuous pleasure from his proofs. He lived from one day of publication to the other; there wasn't a detail of the whole dreary business that he would have missed. It all nourished the illusion. I don't suppose he ever had a shadow of misgiving as to his power. What he worried about was his prestige. He couldn't help being aware that, with all he had, there was still something that he hadn't. He knew, he must have known, that he was not read, not recognized by the people who admired Ford Lankester. He felt their silence and their coldness strike through the warm comfort of his vogue. We, Burton and I, must have made him a bit uneasy. I never in my life saw anybody so alert and so suspicious, so miserably alive to the qualifying shade, the furtive turn, the disastrous reservation.

But no, never a misgiving about Himself. Only, I think, moments of a dreadful insight when he heard behind him the creeping of the tide of oblivion, and it frightened him. He was sensitive to every little fluctuation in his vogue. He had the fear of its vanishing before his eyes. And there he was, shut up among all his splendor with his fear; and it was his wife's work and Antigone's to keep it from him, to stand between him and that vision. He was like a child when his terror was on him; he would go to anybody for comfort. I believe, if Antigone and his wife hadn't been there, he'd have confided in his chauffeur.

He confided now in us, walking dejectedly with us in his “grounds.”

“They'd destroy me,” he said, “if they could. How they can take pleasure in it, Simpson! It's incredible, incomprehensible.”

We said it was, but it wasn't in the least. We knew the pleasure, the indestructible pleasure, he gave us; we knew the irresistible temptation that he offered. As for destroying him, we knew that they wouldn't have destroyed him for the world. He was their one bright opportunity. What would they have done without their Wrackham?

He kept on at it. He said there had been moments this last year when, absurd as it might seem, he had wondered whether after all he hadn't failed. That was the worst of an incessant persecution; it hypnotized you into disbelief, not as to your power (he rubbed that in), but as to your success, the permanence of the impression you had made. I remember trying to console him, telling him that he was all right. He'd got his public, his enormous public.

There were consolations we might have offered him. We might have told him that he had succeeded; we might have told him that, if he wanted a monument, he'd only got to look around him. After all, he'd made a business of it that enabled him to build a Tudor mansion with bathrooms everywhere and keep two motor-cars. We could have reminded him that there wasn't one of the things he'd got with it—no, not one bathroom—that he would have sacrificed, that he was capable of sacrificing; that he'd warmed himself jolly well all over and all the time before the fire of life, and that his cucumbers alone must have been a joy to him. And of course we might have told him that he couldn't have it both ways; that you cannot have bathrooms and motor-cars and cucumber-frames (not to the extent he had them) and the incorruptible and stainless glory. But that wouldn't have consoled him; for he wanted it both ways. Fellows like Wrackham always do. He wasn't really happy, as a really great man might have been, with his cucumbers and things.

He kept on saying it was easy enough to destroy a Great Name. Did they know, did anybody know, what it cost to build one?

I said to myself that possibly Antigone might know. All I said to him was, “Look here, we're agreed they can't do anything. When a man has once captured and charmed the great Heart of the Public, he's safe—in his lifetime, anyway.”

Then he burst out. “His lifetime? Do you suppose he cares about his lifetime? It's the life beyond life—the life beyond life.”

It was in fact, d'you see, the “Life and Letters.” He was thinking about it then.

He went on. “They have it all their own way. He can't retort; he can't explain; he can't justify himself. It's only when he's dead they'll let him speak.”

“Well, I mean to. That'll show 'em,” he said; “that'll show 'em.”

“He's thinking of it, Simpson; he's thinking of it,” Burton said to me that evening.

He smiled. He didn't know what his thinking of it was going to mean—for him.

IV

He had been thinking of it for some considerable time. That pilgrimage was my last—it'll be two years ago this autumn—and it was in the spring of last year he died.

He was happy in his death. It saved him from the thing he dreaded above everything, certainty of the ultimate extinction. It has not come yet. We are feeling still the long reverberation of his vogue. We miss him still in the gleam, the jest gone forever from the papers. There is no doubt but that his death staved off the ultimate extinction. It revived the public interest in him. It jogged the feeble pulse of his once vast circulation. It brought the familiar portrait back again into the papers, between the long, long columns. And there was more laurel and a larger crowd at Brookwood than on the day when we first met him in the churchyard at Chenies.

And then we said there had been stuff in him. We talked (in the papers) of his “output.” He had been, after all, a prodigious, a gigantic worker. He appealed to our profoundest national instincts, to our British admiration of sound business, of the self-made, successful man. He might not have done anything for posterity, but he had provided magnificently for his child and widow.

So we appraised him. Then on the top of it all the crash came, the tremendous crash that left his child and widow almost penniless. He hadn't provided for them at all. He had provided for nothing but his own advertisement. He had been living, not only beyond his income, but beyond, miles beyond, his capital, beyond even the perennial power that was the source of it. And he had been afraid, poor fellow! to retrench, to reduce by one cucumber-frame the items of the huge advertisement; why, it would have been as good as putting up the shop windows—his publishers would instantly have paid him less.

His widow explained tearfully how it all was, and how wise and foreseeing he had been; what a thoroughly sound man of business. And really we thought the dear lady wouldn't be left so very badly off. We calculated that Burton would marry Antigone, and that the simple, self-denying woman could live in modest comfort on the mere proceeds of the inevitable sale. Then we heard that the Tudor mansion, the “Grounds,” the very cucumber-frames, were sunk in a mortgage; and the sale of his “effects,” the motor-cars and furniture, the books and the busts, paid his creditors in full, but it left a bare pittance for his child and widow.

They had come up to town in that exalted state with which courageous women face adversity. In her excitement Antigone tried hard to break off her engagement to Grevill Burton. She was going to do typewriting, she was going to be somebody's secretary, she was going to do a thousand things; but she was not going to hang herself like a horrid millstone round his neck and sink him. She had got it into her head, poor girl, that Wrackham had killed himself, ruined himself by his efforts to provide for his child and widow. They had been the millstones round his neck. She even talked openly now about the “pot-boilers” they had compelled Papa to write; by which she gave us to understand that he had been made for better things. It would have broken your heart to hear her.

Her mother, ravaged and reddened by grief, met us day after day (we were doing all we could for her) with her indestructible, luminous smile. She could be tearful still on provocation, through the smile, but there was something about her curiously casual and calm, something that hinted almost complacently at a little mystery somewhere, as if she had up her sleeve resources that we were not allowing for. But we caught the gist of it, that we, affectionate and well-meaning, but thoroughly unbusiness-like young men, were not to worry. Her evident conviction was that he had foreseen, he had provided for them.

“Lord only knows,” I said to Burton, “what the dear soul imagines will turn up.”

Then one day she sent for me; for me, mind you, not Burton. There was something that she and her daughter, desired to consult me about. I went off at once to the dreadful little lodgings in the Fulham Road where they had taken refuge. I found Antigone looking, if anything, more golden and more splendid, more divinely remote and irrelevant against the dingy background. Her mother was sitting very upright at the head and she at the side of the table that almost filled the room. They called me to the chair set for me facing Antigone. Throughout the interview I was exposed, miserably, to the clear candor of her gaze.

Her mother, with the simplicity which was her charming quality, came straight to the point. It seemed that Wrackham had thought better of us, of Burton and me, than he had ever let us know. He had named us his literary executors. Of course, his widow expounded, with the option of refusal. Her smile took for granted that we would not refuse.

What did I say? Well, I said that I couldn't speak for Burton, but for my own part I—I said I was honored (for Antigone was looking at me with those eyes) and of course I shouldn't think of refusing, and I didn't imagine Burton would either. You see I'd no idea what it meant. I supposed we were only in for the last piteous turning out of the dead man's drawers, the sorting and sifting of the rubbish heap. We were to decide what was worthy of him and what was not.

There couldn't, I supposed, be much of it. He had been hard pressed. He had always published up to the extreme limit of his production.

I had forgotten all about the “Life and Letters.” They had been only a fantastic possibility, a thing our profane imagination played with; and under the serious, chastening influences of his death it had ceased to play.

And now they were telling me that this thing was a fact. The letters were, at any rate. They had raked them all in, to the last postcard (he hadn't written any to us), and there only remained the Life. It wasn't a perfectly accomplished fact; it would need editing, filling out, and completing from where he had left it off. He had not named his editor, his biographer, in writing—at least, they could find no note of it among his papers—but he had expressed a wish, a wish that they felt they could not disregard. He had expressed it the night before he died to Antigone, who was with him.

“Did he not, dearest?”

I heard Antigone say, “Yes, Mamma.” She was not looking at me then.

There was a perfectly awful silence. And then Antigone did look at me, and she smiled faintly.

“It isn't you,” she said.

No, it was not I. I wasn't in it. It was Grevill Burton.

I ought to tell you it wasn't an open secret any longer that Burton was editing the “Life and Letters of Ford Lankester,” with a Critical Introduction. The announcement had appeared in the papers a day or two before Wrackham's death. He had had his eye on Burton. He may have wavered between him and another, he may have doubted whether Burton was after all good enough; but that honor, falling to Burton at that moment, clinched it. There was prestige, there was the thing he wanted. Burton was his man.

There wouldn't, Mrs. Wrackham said, be so very much editing to do. He had worked hard in the years before his death. He had gathered in all the material, and there were considerable fragments—whole blocks of reminiscences, which could be left, which should be left as they stood (her manner implied that they were monuments). What they wanted, of course, was something more than editing. Anybody could have done that. There was the Life to be completed in the later years, the years in which Mr. Burton had known him more intimately than any of his friends. Above all, what was necessary, what had been made so necessary, was a Critical Introduction, the summing up, the giving of him to the world as he really was.

Did I think they had better approach Mr. Burton direct, or would I do that for them? Would I sound him on the subject?

I said cheerfully that I would sound him. If Burton couldn't undertake it (I had to prepare them for this possibility), no doubt we should find somebody who could.

But Antigone met this suggestion with a clear “No.” It wasn't to be done at all unless Mr. Burton did it. And her mother gave a little cry. It was inconceivable that it should not be done. Mr. Burton must. He would. He would see the necessity, the importance of it.

Of course I saw it. And I saw that my position and Burton's was more desperate than I had imagined. I couldn't help but see the immense importance of the “Life and Letters.” They were bound, even at this time of day, to “fetch” a considerable sum, and the dear lady might be pardoned if she were incidentally looking to them as a means of subsistence. They were evidently what she had had up her sleeve. Her delicacy left the financial side of the question almost untouched; but in our brief discussion of the details, from her little wistful tone in suggesting that if Mr. Burton could undertake it at once and get it done soon, if they could in fact launch it on the top of the returning tide—from the very way that she left me to finish her phrases for her I gathered that they regarded the “Life and Letters” as Wrackham's justification in more ways than one. They proved that he had not left them unprovided for.

Well, I sounded Burton. He stared at me aghast. I was relieved to find that he was not going to be sentimental about it. He refused flatly.

“I can't do him and Lankester,” he said.

I saw his point. He would have to keep himself clean for him. I said of course he couldn't, but I didn't know how he was going to make it straight with Antigone.

“I shan't have to make it straight with Antigone,” he said. “She'll see it. She always has seen.”

V

That was just exactly what I doubted.

I was wrong. She always had seen. And it was because she saw and loathed herself for seeing that she insisted on Burton's doing this thing. It was part of her expiation, her devotion, her long sacrificial act. She was dragging Burton into it partly, I believe, because he had seen too, more clearly, more profanely, more terribly than she.

Oh, and there was more in it than that. I got it all from Burton. He had been immensely plucky about it. He didn't leave it to me to get him out of it. He had gone to her himself, so certain was he that he could make it straight with her.

And he hadn't made it straight at all. It had been more awful, he said, than I could imagine. She hadn't seen his point. She had refused to see it, absolutely (I had been right there, anyhow).

He had said, in order to be decent, that he was too busy; he was pledged to Lankester and couldn't possibly do the two together. And she had seen all that. She said of course it was a pity that he couldn't do it now, while people were ready for her father, willing, she said, to listen; but if it couldn't be done at once, why, it couldn't. After all, they could afford to wait. He, she said superbly, could afford it. She ignored in her fine manner the material side of the “Life and Letters,” its absolute importance to their poor finances, the fact that if he could afford to wait, they couldn't. I don't think that view of it ever entered into her head. The great thing, she said, was that it should be done.

And then he had to tell her that he couldn't do it. He couldn't do it at all. “That part of it, Simpson,” he said, “was horrible. I felt as if I were butchering her—butchering a lamb.”

But I gathered that he had been pretty firm so far, until she broke down and cried. For she did, poor bleeding lamb, all in a minute. She abandoned her superb attitude and her high ground and put it altogether on another footing. Her father hadn't been the happy, satisfied, facilely successful person he was supposed to be. People had been cruel to him; they had never understood; they didn't realize that his work didn't represent him. Of course she knew (she seems to have handled this part of it with a bold sincerity) what he, Burton, thought about it; but he did realize that. He knew it didn't do him anything like justice. He knew what lay behind it, behind everything that he had written. It was wonderful, Burton said, how she did that, how she made the vague phrase open up a vast hinterland of intention, the unexplored and unexploited spirit of him. He knew, Burton knew, how he had felt about it, how he had felt about his fame. It hadn't been the thing he really wanted. He had never had that. And oh, she wanted him to have it. It was the only thing she wanted, the only thing she really cared about, the only thing she had ever asked of Burton.

He told me frankly that she didn't seem quite sane about it. He understood it, of course. She was broken up by the long strain of her devotion, by his death and by the crash afterward, by the unbearable pathos of him, of his futility, and of the menacing oblivion. You could see that Antigone had parted with her sense of values and distinctions, that she had lost her bearings; she was a creature that drifted blindly on a boundless sea of compassion. She saw her father die the ultimate death. She pleaded passionately with Burton to hold back the shadow; to light a lamp for him; to prolong, if it were only for a little while, his memory; to give him, out of his own young radiance and vitality, the life beyond life that he had desired.

Even then, so he says, he had held out, but more feebly. He said he thought somebody else ought to do it, somebody who knew her father better. And she said that nobody could do it, nobody did know him; there was nobody's name that would give the value to the thing that Burton's would. That was handsome of her, Burton said. And he seems to have taken refuge from this dangerous praise in a modesty that was absurd, and that he knew to be absurd in a man who had got Lankester's “Life” on his hands. And Antigone saw through it; she saw through it at once. But she didn't see it all; he hadn't the heart to let her see his real reason, that he couldn't do them both. He couldn't do Wrackham after Lankester, nor yet, for Lankester's sake, before. And he couldn't, for his own sake, do him at any time. It would make him too ridiculous.

And in the absence of his real reason he seems to have been singularly ineffective. He just sat there saying anything that came into his head except the one thing. He rather shirked this part of it; at any rate, he wasn't keen about telling me what he'd said, except that he'd tried to change the subject. I rather suspected him of the extreme error of making love to Antigone in order to keep her off it.

Finally she made a bargain with him. She said that if he did it she would marry him whenever he liked (she had considered their engagement broken off, though he hadn't). But (there Antigone was adamant) if he didn't, if he cared so little about pleasing her, she wouldn't marry him at all.

Then he said of course he did care; he would do anything to please her, and if she was going to take a mean advantage and to put it that way——

And of course she interrupted him and said he didn't see her point; she wasn't putting it that way; she wasn't going to take any advantage, mean or otherwise; it was a question of a supreme, a sacred obligation. How could she marry a man who disregarded, who was capable of disregarding, her father's dying wish? And that she stuck to.

I can't tell you now whether she was merely testing him, or whether she was determined, in pure filial piety, to carry the thing through, and saw, knowing her hold on him, that this was the way and the only way, or whether she actually did believe that for him, too, the obligation was sacred and supreme. Anyhow she stuck to it. Poor Burton said he didn't think it was quite fair of her to work in that way, but that, rather than lose her, rather than lose Antigone, he had given in.

VI

He had taken the papers—the documents—home with him; and that he might know the worst, the whole awful extent of what he was in for, he began overhauling them at once.

I went to see him late one evening and found him at it. He had been all through them once, he said, and he was going through them again. I asked him what they were like. He said nothing.

“Worse than you thought?” I asked.

Far worse. Worse than anything I could imagine. It was inconceivable, he said, what they were like. I said I supposed they were like him. I gathered from his silence that it was inconceivable what he was. That Wrackham should have no conception of where he really stood was conceivable; we knew he was like that, heaps of people were, and you didn't think a bit the worse of them; you could present a quite respectable “Life” of them with “Letters” by simply suppressing a few salient details and softening the egoism all round. But what Burton supposed he was going to do with Wrackham, short of destroying him! You couldn't soften him, you couldn't tone him down; he wore thin in the process and vanished under your touch.

But oh, he was immense! The reminiscences were the best. Burton showed us some of them. This was one:

“It was the savage aspects of Nature that appealed to me. One of my earliest recollections is of a thunderstorm among the mountains. My nursery looked out upon the mountainside where the storm broke. My mother has told me that I cried till I made the nurse carry me to the window, and that I literally leaped in her arms for joy. I laughed at the lightning and clapped my hands at the thunder. The Genius of the Storm was my brother. I could not have been more than eleven months old.”

And there was another bit that Burton said was even better.

“I have been a fighter all my life. I have had many enemies. What man who has ever done anything worth doing has not had them? But our accounts are separate, and I am willing to leave the ultimate reckoning to time.” There were lots of things like that. Burton said it was like that cloak he used to wear. It would have been so noble if only he had been a little bigger.

And there was an entry in his diary that I think beat everything he'd ever done. “May 3, 1905. Lankester died. Finished the last chapter of 'A Son of Thunder.' Ave Frater, atque vale.

I thought there was a fine audacity about it, but Burton said there wasn't. Audacity implied a consciousness of danger, and Wrackham had none. Burton was in despair.

“Come,” I said, “there must be something in the Letters.”

No, the Letters were all about himself, and there wasn't anything in him. You couldn't conceive the futility, the fatuity, the vanity—it was a disease with him.

“I couldn't have believed it, Simpson, if I hadn't seen him empty himself.”

“But the hinterland?” I said. “How about the hinterland? That was what you were to have opened up.”

“There wasn't any hinterland. He's opened himself up. You can see all there was of him. It's lamentable, Simpson, lamentable.”

I said it seemed to me to be supremely funny. And he said I wouldn't think it funny if I were responsible for it.

“But you aren't,” I said. “You must drop it. You can't be mixed up with that. The thing's absurd.”

“Absurd? Absurdity isn't in it. It's infernal, Simpson, what this business will mean to me.”

“Look here,” I said. “This is all rot. You can't go on with it.”

He groaned. “I must go on with it. If I don't——”

“Antigone will hang herself?”

“No. She won't hang herself. She'll chuck me. That's how she has me, it's how I'm fixed. Can you conceive a beastlier position?”

I said I couldn't, and that if a girl of mine put me in it, by heaven, I'd chuck her.

He smiled. “You can't chuck Antigone,” he said.

I said Antigone's attitude was what I didn't understand. It was inconceivable she didn't know what the things were like. “What do you suppose she really thinks of them?”

That was it. She had never committed herself to an opinion. “You know,” he said, “she never did.”

“But,” I argued, “you told me yourself she said they'd represent him. And they do, don't they?”

“Represent him?” He grinned in his agony. “I should think they did.”

“But,” I persisted, because he seemed to me to be shirking the issue, “it was her idea, wasn't it? that they'd justify him, give him his chance to speak, to put himself straight with us?”

“She seems,” he said meditatively, “to have taken that for granted.”

“Taken it for granted? Skittles!” I said. “She must have seen they were impossible. I'm convinced, Burton, that she's seen it all along; she's merely testing you to see how you'd behave, how far you'd go for her. You needn't worry. You've gone far enough. She'll let you off.”

“No,” he said, “she's not testing me. I'd have seen through her if it had been that. It's deadly serious. It's a sacred madness with her. She'll never let me off. She'll never let herself off. I've told you a hundred times it's expiation. We can't get round that.”

“She must be mad, indeed,” I said, “not to see.”

“See? See?” he cried. “It's my belief, Simpson, that she hasn't seen. She's been hiding her dear little head in the sand.”

“How do you mean?”

“I mean,” he said, “she hasn't looked. She's been afraid to.”

“Hasn't looked?”

“Hasn't read the damned things. She doesn't know how they expose him.”

“Then, my dear fellow,” I said, “you've got to tell her.”

“Tell her?” he cried. “If I told her she would go and hang herself. No. I'm not to tell her. I'm not to tell anybody. She's got an idea that he's pretty well exposed himself, and, don't you see, I'm to wrap him up.”

“Wrap him up——”

“Wrap him up, so that she can't see, so that nobody can see. That's what I'm here for—to edit him, Simpson, edit him out of all recognition. She hasn't put it to herself that way, but that's what she means. I'm to do my best for him. She's left it to me with boundless trust in my—my constructive imagination. Do you see?”

I did. There was no doubt that he had hit it.

“This thing” (he brought his fist down on it), “when I've finished with it, won't be Wrackham: it'll be all me.”

“That's to say you'll be identified with him?”

“Identified—crucified—scarified with him. You don't suppose they'd spare me? I shall be every bit as—as impossible as he is.”

“You can see all that, and yet you're going through with it?”

“I can see all that, and yet I'm going through with it.”

“And they say,” I remarked gently, “that the days of chivalry are dead.”

“Oh, rot,” he said. “It's simply that—she's worth it.”

Well, he was at it for weeks. He says he never worked at anything as he worked at his Charles Wrackham. I don't know what he made of him, he wouldn't let me see. There was no need, he said, to anticipate damnation.

In the meantime, while it pended, publishers, with a dreadful eagerness, were approaching him from every side. For Wrackham (what was left of him) was still a valuable property, and Burton's name, known as it was, had sent him up considerably, so that you can see what they might have done with him. There had been a lot of correspondence, owing to the incredible competition, for, as this was the last of him, there was nothing to be said against the open market; still, it was considered that his own publishers, if they “rose” properly, should have the first claim. The sum, if you'll believe me, of five thousand had been mentioned. It was indecently large, but Burton said he meant to screw them up to it. He didn't mind how high he screwed them; he wasn't going to touch a penny of it. That was his attitude. You see the poor fellow couldn't get it out of his head that he was doing something unclean.

It was in a fair way of being made public; but as yet, beyond an obscure paragraph in the Publishers' Circular, nothing had appeared about it in print. It remained an open secret.

Then Furnival got hold of it.

Whether it was simply his diabolic humor, or whether he had a subtler and profounder motive (he says himself he was entirely serious; he meant to make Burton drop it); anyhow, he put a paragraph in his paper, in several papers, announcing that Grevill Burton was engaged simultaneously on the “Life and Letters of Ford Lankester” and the “Personal Reminiscences” of Mr. Wrackham.

Furnival did nothing more than that. He left the juxtaposition to speak for itself, and his paragraph was to all appearances most innocent and decorous. But it revived the old irresistible comedy of Charles Wrackham; it let loose the young demons of the press. They were funnier about him than ever (as funny, that is, as decency allowed), having held themselves in so long over the obituary notices.

And Furnival (there I think his fine motive was apparent) took care to bring their ribald remarks under Burton's notice. Furny's idea evidently was to point out to Burton that his position was untenable, that it was not fitting that the same man should deal with Mr. Wrackham and with Ford Lankester. He had to keep himself clean for him. If he didn't see it he must be made to see.

He did see it. It didn't need Furnival to make him. He came to me one evening and told me that it was impossible. He had given it up.

“Thank God,” I said.

He smiled grimly. “God doesn't come into it,” he said. “It's Lankester I've given up.”

“You haven't!” I said.

He said he had.

He was very cool and calm about it, but I saw in his face the marks of secret agitation. He had given Lankester up, but not without a struggle. I didn't suppose he was wriggling out of the other thing, he said. He couldn't touch Lankester after Wrackham. It was impossible for the same man to do them both. It wouldn't be fair to Lankester or his widow. He had made himself unclean.

I assured him that he hadn't, that his motive purged him utterly, that the only people who really mattered were all in the secret; they knew that it was Antigone who had let him in for Wrackham; they wouldn't take him and his Wrackham seriously; and he might be sure that Ford Lankester would absolve him. It was high comedy after Lankester's own heart, and so on. But nothing I said could move him. He stuck to it that the people in the secret, the people I said mattered, didn't matter in the least, that his duty was to the big outside public for whom Lives were written, who knew no secrets and allowed for no motives; and when I urged on him, as a final consideration, that he'd be all right with them, they wouldn't understand the difference between Charles Wrackham and Ford Lankester, he cried out that that was what he meant. It was his business to make them understand. And how could they if he identified himself with Wrackham? It was almost as if he identified Lankester——

Then I said that, if that was the way he looked at it, his duty was clear. He must give Wrackham up.

“Give up Antigone, you mean,” he said.

He couldn't.

VII

Of course it was not to be thought of that he should give up his Lankester, and the first thing to be done was to muzzle Furnival's young men. I went to Furny the next day and told him plainly that his joke had gone too far, that he knew what Burton was and that it wasn't a bit of good trying to force his hand.

And then that evening I went on to Antigone.

She said I was just in time; and when I asked her “for what?” she said—to give them my advice about her father's “Memoirs.”

I told her that was precisely what I'd come for; and she asked if Grevill had sent me.

I said no, he hadn't. I'd come for myself.

“Because,” she said, “he's sent them back.”

I stared at her. For one moment I thought that he had done the only sane thing he could do, that he had made my horrible task unnecessary.

She explained. “He wants Mamma and me to go over them again and see if there aren't some things we'd better leave out.”

“Oh,” I said, “is that all?”

I must have struck her as looking rather queer, for she said, “All? Why, whatever did you think it was?”

With a desperate courage I dashed into it there where I saw my opening.

“I thought he'd given it up.”

“Given it up?”

Her dismay showed me what I had yet to go through. But I staved it off a bit. I tried half-measures.

“Well, yes,” I said, “you see, he's frightfully driven with his Lankester book.”

“But—we said—we wouldn't have him driven for the world. Papa can wait. He has waited.”

I ignored it and the tragic implication.

“You see,” I said, “Lankester's book's awfully important. It means no end to him. If he makes the fine thing of it we think he will, it'll place him. What's more, it'll place Lankester. He's still—as far as the big outside public is concerned—waiting to be placed.”

“He mustn't wait,” she said. “It's all right. Grevill knows. We told him he was to do Lankester first.”

I groaned. “It doesn't matter,” I said, “which he does first.”

“You mean he'll be driven anyway?”

It was so far from what I meant that I could only stare at her and at her frightful failure to perceive.

I went at it again, as I thought, with a directness that left nothing to her intelligence. I told her what I meant was that he couldn't do them both.

But she didn't see it. She just looked at me with her terrible innocence.

“You mean it's too much for him?”

And I tried to begin again with no, it wasn't exactly that—but she went on over me.

It wouldn't be too much for him if he didn't go at it so hard. He was giving himself more to do than was necessary. He'd marked so many things for omission; and, of course, the more he left out of “Papa,” the more he had to put in of his own.

“And he needn't,” she said. “There's such a lot of Papa.”

I knew. I scowled miserably at that. How was I going to tell her it was the whole trouble, that there was “such a lot of Papa”?

I said there was; but, on the other hand, he needed such a lot of editing.

She said that was just what they had to think about. Did he?

I remembered Burton's theory, and I put it to her point-blank. Had she read all of him?

She flushed slightly. No, she said, not all. But Mamma had.

“Then” (I skirmished), “you don't really know?”

She parried it with “Mamma knows.”

And I thrust. “But,” I said, “does your mother really understand?”

I saw her wince.

“Do you mean,” she said, “there are things—things in it that had better be kept out?”

“No,” I said, “there weren't any 'things' in it——”

“There couldn't be,” she said superbly. “Not things we'd want to hide.”

I said there weren't. It wasn't “things” at all. I shut my eyes and went at it head downward.

It was, somehow, the whole thing.

“The whole thing?” she said, and I saw that I had hit her hard.

“The whole thing,” I said.

She looked scared for a moment. Then she rallied.

“But it's the whole thing we want. He wanted it. I know he did. He wanted to be represented completely or not at all. As he stood. As he stood,” she reiterated.

She had given me the word I wanted. I could do it gently now.

“That's it,” I said. “These 'Memoirs' won't represent him.”

Subtlety, diabolic or divine, was given me. I went at it like a man inspired.

“They won't do him justice. They'll do him harm.”

“Harm?” She breathed it with an audible fright.

“Very great harm. They give a wrong impression, an impression of—of——”

I left it to her. It sank in. She pondered it.

“You mean,” she said at last, “the things he says about himself?”

“Precisely. The things he says about himself. I doubt if he really intended them all for publication.”

“It's not the things he says about himself so much,” she said. “We could leave some of them out. It's what Grevill might have said about him.”

That was awful; but it helped me; it showed me where to plant the blow that would do for her, poor lamb.

“My dear child,” I said (I was very gentle, now that I had come to it, to my butcher's work), “that's what I want you to realize. He'll—he'll say what he can, of course; but he can't say very much. There—there isn't really very much to say.”

She took it in silence. She was too much hurt, I thought, to see. I softened it and at the same time made it luminous.

“I mean,” I said, “for Grevill to say.”

She saw.

“You mean,” she said simply, “he isn't great enough?”

I amended it. “For Grevill.”

“Grevill,” she repeated. I shall never forget how she said it. It was as if her voice reached out and touched him tenderly.

“Lankester is more in his line,” I said. “It's a question of temperament, of fitness.”

She said she knew that.

“And,” I said, “of proportion. If he says what you want him to say about your father, what can he say about Lankester?”

“But if he does Lankester first?”

“Then—if he says what you want him to say—he undoes everything he has done for Lankester. And,” I added, “he's done for.”

She hadn't seen that aspect of it, for she said: “Grevill is?”

I said he was, of course. I said we all felt that strongly; Grevill felt it himself. It would finish him.

Dear Antigone, I saw her take it. She pressed the sword into her heart. “If—if he did Papa? Is it—is it as bad as all that?”

I said we were afraid it was—for Grevill.

“And is he,” she said, “afraid?”

“Not for himself,” I said, and she asked me: “For whom, then?” And I said: “For Lankester.” I told her that was what I'd meant when I said just now that he couldn't do them both. And, as a matter of fact, he wasn't going to do them both. He had given up one of them.

“Which?” she asked; and I said she might guess which.

But she said nothing. She sat there with her eyes fixed on me and her lips parted slightly. It struck me that she was waiting for me, in her dreadful silence, as if her life hung on what I should say.

“He has given up Lankester,” I said.

I heard her breath go through her parted lips in a long sigh, and she looked away from me.

“He cared,” she said, “as much as that.”

“He cared for you as much,” I said. I was a little doubtful as to what she meant. But I know now.

She asked me if I had come to tell her that.

I said I thought it was as well she should realize it. But I'd come to ask her—if she cared for him—to let him off. To—to——

She stopped me with it as I fumbled.

“To give Papa up?”

I said, to give him up as far as Grevill was concerned.

She reminded me that it was to be Grevill or nobody.

Then, I said, it had much better be nobody. If she didn't want to do her father harm.

She did not answer. She was looking steadily at the fire burning in the grate. At last she spoke.

“Mamma,” she said, “will never give him up.”

I suggested that I had better speak to Mrs. Wrackham.

“No,” she said. “Don't. She won't understand.” She rose. “I am not going to leave it to Mamma.”

She went to the fire and stirred it to a furious flame.

“Grevill will be here,” she said, “in half an hour.”

She walked across the room—I can see her going now—holding her beautiful head high. She locked the door (I was locked in with Antigone). She went to a writing-table where the “Memoirs” lay spread out in parts; she took them and gathered them into a pile. I was standing by the hearth and she came toward me; I can see her; she was splendid, carrying them in her arms sacrificially. And she laid them on the fire.

It took us half an hour to burn them. We did it in a sort of sacred silence.

When it was all over and I saw her stand there, staring at a bit of Wrackham's handwriting that had resisted to the last the purifying flame, I tried to comfort her.

“Angelette,” I said, “don't be unhappy. That was the kindest thing you could do—and the best thing, believe me—to your father's memory.”

“I'm afraid,” she said, “I wasn't thinking—altogether—of Papa.”

I may add that her mother did not understand, and that—when we at last unlocked the door—we had a terrible scene. The dear lady has not yet forgiven Antigone; she detests her son-in-law; and I'm afraid she isn't very fond of me.